As most of you will know, Cal accidentally bought our house at auction.
If you haven’t heard this story, and are wondering HOW you accidentally buy a house at auction, you can read about the mishap by clicking HERE.
Admittedly, we are about the two least qualified people to solicit advise about buying property at auction. But, as first-time buyers and bidders, we learnt a lot from the experience, and my hope is that someone else can learn from our mistake!
So we’ll start with some important advice, and then let you know a bit about the process of buying a house at auction!
Firstly, and I can not stress this enough: DO YOUR RESEARCH ON THE PROPERTY YOU WANT TO BUY!
To be fair, Cal and I had done LOTS of research on the apartment we wanted to buy!
- We scoured the internet for information on the property.
- We attempted a site visit (which couldn’t be done because of a closing order on the unit.)
- We used a friends drone to check out the roof and upper floors of the building.
- And we spoke to people in the neighbourhood to find out as much as we could about the property.
From our experience, people love a good gossip, and you can learn some valuable information about a property just by asking around. But take what you have heard with a pinch of salt, because you are bound to come by some nonsense mixed between the useful information.
From speaking to people about Jameswood, we were convinced our building was sinking and needed costly underpinning (which was definitely not true: we had a structural engineer do a full investigation on the foundations, and they were solid!) We heard crazy rumours that a river ran underneath our house (also very much not true,) and even a woman from the council advised us that the gable end of the house could collapse any day now (This was the most confusing information we heard. The gables were over half a meter thick, dead straight and solid. It would take a catastrophic event to move those walls).
But we also learned some very useful information about the place: why and when it was abandoned. The need for a costly roof repair coincided with the American Navel troops leaving Sandbank – essentially halving the population overnight. Joint ownership complicated the matters, as one tenant had left for America, one had recently passed away, and another was elderly and chose to move in with family. The only tenants left in the building were a young couple who couldn’t afford to cover the cost of expensive common repairs that should have been a shared responsibility between all owners. The couple put a bathtub in the middle of the upstairs living room to catch leaks, but eventually gave in and abandoned the building.
From this information, we decided to look back at the sales history of the property. The units had never been sold at the same time, making joint ownership difficulties the main culprit for the property being left undeveloped.
My second piece of advice is implied by, and just as important as the first: DO NOT BLIND BID AT AN AUCTION!
You will be tempted to blind bid. Especially if the property you were hoping for is snatched up by someone else. But beware: auctioneers use VERY sneaky marketing tactics.
Take Jameswood for example. The photo of Jameswood that the auction house used was taken in 2010 – eight years before the auction. It was conveniently angled to hide the partially collapsed bay window and front wall that would have been an easy red flag to any buyers. The description of Jameswood said the building was perfect for development, needing “upgrades throughout”; which in our opinion, doesn’t accurately describe a building that is in partial collapse, needs seriously structural repairs, and requires a new roof and full gut due to extensive water damage. The council and our structural engineer both told us (repeatedly) to knock the building down and start over; the building was definitely not perfect for development.
If you’re wondering WHY we didn’t just knock the building down and start over, you can click HERE to find out!
We weren’t the only ones who thought Jameswood was improperly marketed! Rumour has it that the previous owners of the building had brought the Auction house to court, accusing them of false advertising. But auction houses are protected by the law and know all the loopholes available for them to legally advertise a property.
These cheap, cunningly marketed buildings become a cash cow for auctioneers. People buy a property on a whim, realise they’ve made a bad purchase, and quickly sell it on at the next auction. Each time this happens, an auction house collects a sellers fee, and a buyers fee, usually upwards of 2000 pounds each; and the cycle continues.
This happened with Jameswood. The property was passed on between buyers like a game of hot potato for at least 10 years. Each time, making the auction house upward of four grand.
At the auction Cal went to, another of the four apartments in the building was sold to a blind bidder from Glasgow. When he first did a site visit, he immediately called us, offering to sell his apartment – eventually giving it to us at a loss.
Once we had purchased the unit off the Glasgow man, we owned three of the four units in Jameswood Villa.
When the last apartment was advertised at the next auction, it was clear the auction house didn’t want us to buy the unit and end the hot potato unless they could swindle us for some extra cash. They offered to sell us the property before the auction at a crazy price, and when we said we would just wait for the auction, they told us there was another interested buyer. We called their bluff, so they lied to us and said the property had been sold – even putting a sold sign on their website so that we wouldn’t turn up for the auction!
We had no idea the property went to auction, but found out a month later that it had been bought by another blind bidder. The cycle continued!
The couple who won the bid only realised how bad the house was when their solicitor stumbled upon our blog! Having seen that we had a plan for the place, and not wanting the auction house to make any more money off their Jameswood scam, they sold their apartment to us at a loss.
I will clarify for Cal’s sake, that he didn’t purposely blind bid at auction. He had genuinely thought he was bidding on a different property. Whether on purpose, or bad luck, two extra apartments at Jameswood had been added to the auction last minute, and had not been included in the printed auction booklets. Having little experience with quick talking auctioneers or a Glaswegian accent, Cal chose to carefully follow the auction book, and had no idea he had bought the wrong house.
Though this should go without saying, my last bit of advice is to be very careful and pay close attention to which plot is being sold at the auction!
We were first time buyers when won the bid for Jameswood Villa. The process for buying a property was completely foreign to us.
The biggest surprise for me was the hidden cost included in buying a property. We expected to pay auction fees, but I naively thought we could transfer our money to the Auction house and be handed over our keys! (I had no idea there wouldn’t be any keys to the house… there weren’t even locking doors left!)
I’m still not exactly sure what they do, why they’re needed, or why they are so expensive, but a solicitor is needed to buy a property. Then, if the price of your property is over a certain threshold, you'll have to pay taxes as well. Luckily, Jameswood’s apartments didn’t meet this threshold!
After one stressful month of compiling paperwork for our solicitor, we received a slightly anticlimactic email from the lawyer to confirm that Jameswood was now ours. We sat in our leaky, rotten house, with a bottle of beer and a deep determination to turn Jameswood into a beautiful home.
All in all, I think the outcome of an auction is what you make of it. On paper, and according to the professionals, Jameswood was a dud. But we think accidentally buying our Victorian Villa was one of the luckiest mistakes we’ve ever made!
Jameswood has given us a goal. It’s given us a challenge that Cal and I can work on and grow from together. We have learned so much about ourselves and each other. It’s been difficult, both emotionally and physically, but it’s made us stronger and we’ve had some of our best memories while restoring this building.
I hope our story has not only taught someone about the dangers of buying a property at auction, but also taught someone about the good that can come from taking a risk and determinedly following your dreams.
Thank you for joining us on our journey as we attempt to restore Jameswood Villa.
If you would like to help us get a little bit closer to reaching our goal, you can visit gofundme.com/f/whathavewedunoon
It’s been a very long while since I last did a progress report, so I thought I’d take some time to catch everyone up on the project!
In our last progress report, we had moved our caravan to the back yard, and started to settle into life on a building site.
We managed to complete some very daunting tasks, including raising our sunken roof, rebuilding a section of partially collapsed sandstone wall, and playing a giant game of Jenga with our house when we decided to replace the cracked red sandstones in our front bay window!
If you missed this update, you can click here to take a look!
With these tasks all complete, we had managed to tackle some of the biggest structural problems with the building, and we were gaining a new-found confidence in our ability to take on this project!
Progress Report #4: June – September, 2019. Reroofing Jameswood.
When Cal first went to visit Jameswood back in October of 2018, we were both very disheartened by the state of the roof. The house had clearly suffered many years of water damage, which had left dangerous holes in the upper floor, wood rot throughout and mould that clung to every surface and left an unpleasant stale scent in the air. The roof was misshapen and as Cal made his way up into the loft space, he was greeted by bright specs of daylight that created a starry night effect on the ceiling. When it rained, the water seemed to come down equally hard inside our house as outside. The house would drip hours after the rain had passed, depositing icy-cold drops down the back of your neck when you least suspected it.
From back in Canada, my father and I tried convincing Cal it wasn’t a big deal. We could learn to roof a building! But Cal was adamant that we didn’t have the skills and know-how to replace a slate roof.
He was right. Slate is notoriously difficult to work with. It’s hard to cut and cracks when you hammer a nail in too tightly, step on it, or drop a tile. We were resigned to the fact that we couldn’t do the roof ourselves, and started calling roofers for a quote.
One roofer spoke to Cal on the phone, and when he realised which building Cal was talking about, he immediately said his company wouldn’t work on it.
Finally, we got a quote from a company. 40 000 just for reslating! That wouldn’t include any of the structural repairs that we would need to do.
We didn’t even have 40 000 pounds! Getting a company to do our roof wasn’t going to be an option.
After lots of research, we found the perfect solution for our project. IKOslate. It’s a long-lasting composite slate that’s made out of 99% recycled materials and is 100% recyclable at the end of its life. It’s eco friendly, in keeping with the original character of the building, and most importantly, it’s easy to install. It was absolutely perfect.
We got in touch with IKO, and incredibly, they agreed to sponsor our project! Jameswood’s restoration would truly be at a standstill if it wasn’t for this company’s support. We can not thank them enough for their help.
I’ve posted a link to IKOslate for those of you who are interested in the product. And *spoiler* I can genuinely and whole-heartedly say I could not be happier with how beautiful these slates look opn our roof.
There's also a great video that we and the IKO team put together about our roof!
So, we had a brilliant solution for our roof covering. But first we had to focus on fixing the roof structure. Thankfully, Cal and his father are both carpenters. We convinced Cal’s dad to come up for a …relaxing Scottish retreat…? …and the two of them started splicing new timbers into the roof where rafters were too rotten or warped.
Cal and his father splicing new timbers in where roof rafters were rotten and warped.
As the weather warmed up, we posted our project on workaway – a website that connects travellers with hosts who are working on projects of all kinds. Similar to “woofing”, we would provide accommodation and food to travellers, and show them around the incredible Argyll coast (actually.. our good friends David and Tony usually showed everyone around while we worked on the house!) In return, our guests would help us out with restoring Jameswood!
With about ten people staying in the backyard to help us with the roof and enjoy the Scottish scenery, Jameswood was starting to look more like a hippy commune than a building site. We had tents scattered around the yard, and I loved our days of community living. We had family-style meals, and wound down our nights around a bonfire in the back yard. Everyone took turns cooking and washing-up, and with a lightened domestic work-load, we could properly focus our attention on the house.
A glimpse into life at Jameswood's "hippie commune"
Once Cal and his dad had fixed the rafters in the front face of the roof, it was all hands on deck! We boarded out the roof in OSB sheets, fixed down a breathable membrane that would add extra protection to the roof and installed kilometres of batten for the slates to be fixed to! I had a go at carpentry, building the outriggers to extend over the gable ends, and rebuilding some of the dormer windows.
Weeks went by as we prepared the roof for slating, and as unseasonably rainy weather kept coming, we became desperate for a dry space to store our tools. Once the front half of the roof was structurally sound, boarded and battened, we decided to start slating, and do the back half of the roof afterwards.
One of the trickiest parts of roofing is setting out. If you don’t get the spacing and overlap of your tiles right, your roof could leak, your slates could uplift in wind and you could be left with an awkward line of slates at the top of the roof that are more wide or narrow than the rest! Luckily, IKOslate has handy markings that help you get the right overlap, and the slightly curved shape keeps the slates tight against each other so they can’t get pulled up by wind. I watched countless Youtube videos to figure out how to space the slates evenly, and Cal and I measured everything out over and over to make sure we had gotten it right.
And then, when there was no more planning and double checking we could possibly do, we nervously got to slating.
We made an assembly line with our guests: Two workawayers cutting slates, two sending them up to Cal and I and receiving measurements for the next cut. We hadn’t wanted guests to do the slating for fear of mucking up our roof… but we soon realised just how easy the process was! After a few hours of roofing ourselves, we decided the IKOslate was foolproof, and rearranged our process.
We had as many volunteers up on the roof as possible. Usually about four of us. The slates were so easy to cut we decided to bring the jigsaws up to roof level and cut them as we needed them. With no more separate cutters and messengers, we just had two people passing up tiles at a constant rate and the slates started flying onto the roof! In less than a week, we had the front half of the roof complete!
We were over the moon, and with our excitement renewed, we got on with the laborious task of fixing, boarding and battening the back half of the roof.
At this time, I was taking on shifts at the local pub in the evenings, and one night, a local construction worker pointed out a problem with our roofing process. We had completely finished the front half of the roof and were about to open up the back half of the roof to the wind. What we had unknowingly managed to do is create a gigantic wind-sail on top of our house! He warned that he had seen whole roofs uplift in strong winds due to this mistake.
With this worry in the back of our minds, work suddenly picked up, and we had the back half of the roof prepared in half the time it took us to complete the front! Still, I spent that fortnight sleep deprived. Every gust of wind woke me up, and I sleeplessly spent my nights checking the window to see if our roof was still firmly attached to our building.
Having finished the front face of the roof, and opened up the back, we had unknowingly made the structure a giant sail! Good thing the rafters had been carefully fixed down!
As September came, we said goodbye to our workawayers, and got to slating the back half of our roof by ourselves. Cal and I were so motivated to push through and finish slating. We spent every hour of sunlight on top of the building, and incredibly, had the roof finished less than a week after we started slating.
Just the two of us. Slating our roof together!
On the last day of slating, I stayed up on the roof nearly the whole day. Getting tea and sandwiches brought to me. When the last slate was fixed, I clambered down to see the final results and I truly couldn’t have been happier. Our roof is absolutely beautiful, and I am completely over the moon about it.
I spent days doing double takes whenever I looked at the house. Still, 6 months later, I sometimes catch myself staring at our roof with pride. We did that! And it looks so good! We celebrated with a bottle a bubbly shared between friends, and a week-long rest!
Our beautiful new roof!!!
Reroofing Jameswood was an absolute game changer. We finally had a dry space to work, and store materials and tools. Gone are the days of being sternly told-off by Cal for leaving his favourite saw untarped. Jameswood’s walls could finally start to dry, and slowly, as they released water and brightened in colour from the top-down, the damp smell that hung in the air lifted.
We can not thank IKO enough for sponsoring the reroofing of Jameswood. When we had set out on the mission to reroof our house, we had expected it would drain our funds and leave our project at a stand-still. Because of IKO’s support, we have been able to carry on restoring Jameswood (in a dry space!!)
With this buildings’ biggest problems now behind us, accidentally buying Jameswood is starting to look much less like a giant f***-up, and much more like a blessing in disguise.
Thank you for joining us on our journey,
Sincerely, Claire (and Cal!)
A foreword: we've tried our best to gather some information on the history of Jameswood. We are not, however, historians, nor did we consult one in making this blog post. As I am not referencing texts, please just take this as an interpretation of the stories we've heard since moving to the area.
Jameswood itself does not have a tremendously interesting history. However, Sandbank, the village located alongside Dunoon, where the building is located, has a rich and prolific history. One which makes Jameswood and the rest of the community a special place to live and explore.
Where to begin?
Why don't you knock it down and start over?
This is a question Cal and I get A LOT.
To be honest, it's not a bad question. Even our structural engineer, who has been a fantastic help on the project, recommended we knock Jameswood down - THREE TIMES, in the same report! The Argyll and Bute council have taken the same stance on the place, recommending we demolish in nearly every meeting we have had with them face to face.
So why didn't we?
We just wanted to start off this post by saying THANK YOU to everyone who has donated to our GoFundMe page! You've helped us get a little bit closer to making our dream of restoring Jameswood a reality!
As we said before, we will be including the names of everyone who has donated to the project somewhere in our house!
If you are interested in supporting the Jameswood Restoration, you can visit
We are blown away by the incredibly kind messages of support we receive from all over the world. Thank you SO much.
To catch up on the progress we had made before May, you can check out progress report #1 and #2 here!
PROGRESS REPORT #3: May - June, 2019
Last time I posted, we had just gotten the hang of putting up scaffolding, and were about to start to making our way around the building with it.
But first, we had to move the caravan. It was at the front of the house, which wasn't ideal for traffic noise, privacy and safety (it was sitting in front of our partially collapsed wall!), but it would also get in the way of the scaffolding braces.
Our neighbour has a 4 by 4 pickup truck, and he kindly offered to lend a hand. He moved the caravan from our original driveway, around to the new driveway we had recently made for receiving scaffolding.
We've had a lot of questions from subscribers and followers about how people can support the project.
For those of you who would like to, we've set up a gofundme page, so that you can assist us in seeing through our dream of restoring Jameswood!
Our goal is to carry out the project to a high standard and to do so in an environmentally friendly way - so that Jameswood can last another 130 years and have a low impact on our planet while being here! We hope this page can help us achieve this goal.
If you do wish to donate, PLEASE leave your name, or your family's name, so that we can include it somewhere in the house when the project is completed!
THANK YOU again, to EVERYONE who has shown us support, as we restore Jameswood Villa! We can not explain to you how much it means to us to have you cheering us on!
It's been nearly four months since our last progress report, and lots has happened since then!
When you see Jameswood on a daily basis, it's really easy to forget how far you've come and notice the changes that are slowly happening. When a friend re-visits and exclaims, in shock, that, "the place has electricity!" Or, "this room is cleared out!" You realise, lots has changed since we first started the project!
It's important to allow some time for self reflection. We've taken on HUGE project, and looking back at all we've accomplished so far helps motivate us to carry on!
In our last progress report, we had managed to clear the garden - an epic task that required battling through a forest of weeds that had engulfed our property and rescuing trees from the chokehold of ivy and other climbers.
PROGRESS REPORT #2: March - April, 2019
Today, I'm having a rest. I'm doing nothing.
Well.. after waking up at 7 a.m. to unload scaffolding off a truck for 3 hours.
After that. Then, I'm doing nothing.
Cal and I realised we haven't been taking enough breaks. We typically work on the house 6 days a week, and take one day off for ourselves.
Our day off usually involves hiking up one of the various mountains in the area - a peak a week - is what we call it.
Even on our days off, we usually end up doing some work on the house. It's just hard to sit down and do nothing when there's so much to do on the place!
We're doing a good job at getting enough sleep, eating well and (naturally) getting plenty of exercise, but a key ingredient we've missed out on is rest.
Cal is usually a morning person. Staying in bed until 8 is considered a lie-in for him. It seems he has boundless amounts of energy, and he usually greets the day with a giddy smile and a bounce in his step. Seeing Cal accidentally sleep-in past 9 was a very good indication that we haven't been giving ourselves enough downtime!
Our current workload is unsustainable. Something needs to change.
We have to take self care seriously while working on this project, so that we don't burn out, and so that our relationship survives this adventure (an unrested Cal and Claire can lead to some very grumpy behavior)!
So that's why, this weekend, we're taking the WHOLE weekend off. Tools down. Feet up!
We hope everyone has a happy Easter! We'll be enjoying ours while firmly planted in some garden chairs, soaking up the Scottish Sun (Yes! It's been incredibly sunny here lately! We're loving it!).
Thank you SO, SO much for the ongoing support!
Cal and Claire
There's something I've been hiding from my readers since we first started this Blog in January.
Jameswood Villa is a building made up of four apartments. When Cal first went to auction, he only bought ONE apartment in the building.
We decided not to post too much about this because we were in the process of negotiating to buy the other units. Ironically, one of the first times we made it clear we hadn't bought the whole building was in our interview with the Scottish reporter who "broke" our story - but she didn't mention it in her final article!
This week was momentous for us, because we finally own Jameswood... ALL OF IT! And now I can finally tell you all about it.
The fact that Jameswood was split up into seperate apartments is likely a major contributing factor to the building falling into disrepair and becoming derelict over the years. Owners hadn't agreed to make the repairs needed to stop closing orders being put on the building, and apartments weren't sold together, or at the same time - putting off investors.
The fact that the building was split into apartments is ALSO the reason for Cal's (now famous) auction mix up. You can read more about how we accidentally bought Jameswood here.
Three of Jameswoods apartments were up for sale on the day of the auction. The first was sold to another bidder, the second was sold to Cal and the third had no bidders.
Later that day, the Auction house called Cal and asked if we'd like to buy the third apartment that had been up for sale that day.
We hadn't yet seen the place, but we knew that if the last apartment had to go to auction again, we could be waiting months before there was another investor on board for common works to commence. We saw the unsold third apartment as a loose end that needed to be tied up - so we agreed to buy the flat for a discounted auction fee.
Now we owned half the building. And this is when Cal first went and saw Jameswood. As most of you could probably guess, seeing the building for the first time was a bit of a shock. It was definitely more than the "upgrades throughout" that we were expecting from the auction description. Luckily, our good friends Barry and Dexter were there to calm Cal when he first saw the place. Together they did an initial survey of the building, and started to uncover the problems that would have to be solved to repair the building.
Wow! What a whirlwind.
About a week ago, Cal and I thought we were going to be in one Scottish newspaper, having done an interview with a reporter after they had seen our story in Dunoon's local paper.
As the day progressed, we were shocked to find the story spreading, first to other UK papers, and then across the globe.
We were soon getting messages from people in Australia, New Zealand, North and South America, Russia and Thailand.
At first it was a bit overwhelming. It's a very weird feeling, knowing so many people know who you are, and know about your little mix up at an auction. The stories seemed to get more and more sensationalized as the day progressed, and unlike here on my blog, we had absolutely no control over how things were told by all these news sources.
But what came from having our story spread all over the internet was amazing. Cal and I are incredibly moved by the enormous amount of support, the incredibly kind words of encouragement and the general positivity we have been sent by so many people.
From all over the world, people have taken some time out of their days to follow our Facebook, Instagram and Blog, and to email, message and comment us such lovely well wishes.
The scale of this project can feel very daunting at times. It is so nice to know that so many people from all over the world are supporting us as we take this on.
We would just like to say a heartfelt and sincere thank you to everyone who has sent us encouragement.
I will be posting a new update very shortly, but for now, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Cal and Claire
A few of the articles we've found about our story.